Int’l comics residency pushes artists to experiment

A collaboration by Peter Ferrero, Brandon Hughes and Lisa Hanawalt. (Photo courtesy of PFC4)

Comics have gained some literary prestige in the United States in recent years. But European artists have long pushed the boundaries of the form. One vehicle for that experimentation has been the Pierre Feuille Ciseaux,  a residency program for comics artists that translates to Rock Paper Scissors.

For the past three years, the event took place in France, including at an ancient salt factory.  This year it’s in Minneapolis.

Comic artist Zak Sally, of Minneapolis, is participating in the residency for the second time. He said the week-long program revolves around exercises where artists collaborate, but with some rules.

“There’s kind of a tradition of experimental comics restrictions,” Sally said. “It’s based on the French thing of, write an entire novel without the letter ‘E,’ or just creating rules to make cartoonists think differently about what they do.”

The experiments could be as simple as collaborating with two others on a panel-by-panel comics story. Or it could be more ambitious.

“I found a roll of old player piano paper and I just put that on the floor and people are creating a comic out of the theme of the song and using the cuts in the paper as graphic devices,” Sally said. “Everybody is in the same room just coming up with things to do.”

A collaboration by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Max de Radiguès and Eleanor Davis.

The participants are not superhero comics artists. They’re artists who tell stories in unorthodox or experimental ways. The program includes 20 professional artists from France, Belgium and across North America.

“These are cartoonists who aren’t household names,” Sally said, “but among the worldwide comic community of people who are creating really new and interesting work, these are very well-known names.”

The artists have spent the week collaborating with one another and with Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) students. Barbara Schulz is a professor at MCAD and a professional comics illustrator.

“We want to explore what this comic language could become and how to improve its narrative, and maybe expand it,” Schulz said. We want to “explore the possibilities, with comics being still a relatively new expression in the arts and definitely in a sort of academic setting.”

The best and most interesting work from the week will be on display at MCAD’s gallery. On Saturday, the public is invited to see the art and collaborate on their own projects with the artists.

“Another idea here is that this isn’t just for artistes, these are really simple little experiments,” Sally said. “The artists will still be on the grounds and will still be running experiments, and the public is welcome to come and participate in these experiments.”

Pierre Feuille Ciseaux 4: The International Comics Laboratory
Public participation day: Saturday, August 17, noon to 5 p.m., first and second floor galleries at MCAD
Artist panel presentation: Saturday, August 17, 4 p.m., Auditorium 150 at MCAD